Book Review - Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart

Image of Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart
by John Ensor
Crossway 2007
Paperback 160

You truly cannot judge a book by its cover or its title. In John Ensor’s book, Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart, I would suggest that neither the cover nor the title do justice to this outstanding book. Neither does the title fully relay its critical contents. Based upon the title, I assumed that this book was another nouthetic counseling book about the heart. Instead, I found a profoundly well-written “heart surgery” book on the roles of men and women as it relates to real life, both before marriage and in marriage. In his book, Ensor declares that his objective “is to provide a winsomely radical alternative to the prevailing ideas, almost absolute doctrines, that guide our current thinking about manhood and womanhood and define our actions and expectations when pursuing matters of the heart.” (p. 15). In a footnote, he likens his book to a user-friendly, basic version of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Piper and Grudem (p. 20).

Ensor approaches this with a somewhat unique background of twenty five years of pastoral counseling, including twelve years as a pastor, and fifteen helping to establish pregnancy help centers in the Boston area, and at the time of publishing, he was helping to start five pregnancy centers in the neediest neighborhoods in Miami. Repeatedly he has seen the results of lives pursuing what the world demanded they pursue, only to come up empty-handed, hurt, diseased, ashamed, broken, and unfulfilled. He is not writing from theory. Ensor’s approach examines Scripture as it clashes with the heart of culture today from a firsthand experience.

In the first section of the book, Ensor attempts “to get to the heart of manhood and womanhood according to the Bible. What does it mean to be a man and not a woman? What is distinctively meaningful about being a woman and not a man? What marks the mature man? What does it mean to be, dare I say, a godly man? What marks the mature and godly woman and makes her attractive and fulfilled? How do we complement and fit together?” (p. 20-21) He offers that our culture’s “forced upon” solution to its underlying thirst is precisely opposite to what the Creator actually designed. Further, what the Creator designed is ultimately what the world craves after its solutions leave it broken and shattered.

In the second section, Ensor presents “direct and clear lines of approach,” illustrating what a biblical (albeit imperfect) two-gender relationship looks like from many different angles in both its pursuit and in marriage itself. His pointed chapter headings in this section give a clear idea of his approach:

  • He Initiates…She Responds
  • He Leads…She Guides
  • He Works…She Waits
  • He Protects…She Welcomes Protection
  • He Abstains to Protect…She, to Test
  • His Unmet Desire Drives Him toward Marriage…Hers Is Rewarded with Marriage
  • He Displays Integrity…She, Inner Beauty
  • He Loves by Sacrificing…She, by Submitting
  • He Seeks His Happiness in Hers…She Seeks Hers in His
  • He Is the Primary Provider for the Family…She, the Primary Nurturer

Ensor compares the overwhelming but false views of the world with reality—the biblical world. He contrasts the crushed lives of men and women who follow these lies with his profusely repeated declaration that God’s design, order, and intention by His revelation is to lead a man and a woman “to form a healthy, tender, passionate, enduring, mutually satisfying relationship.” This relationship only comes to fruition when men function as men, and women as women, as God defines and describes in Scripture.

The author addresses both men and women throughout the book, and he does so with a directness that is indicative of one who has had much experience doing so. Ensor’s writing is very direct, almost edgy (but never over the edge), but also smothered with love and understanding. It is extremely practical. Here is an example, directed to women:

There is no doubt that young women are being taught today to be sexually aggressive and to expect many partners. Modesty and restraint are considered signs of obsequious surrender to a foregone age of sexual repression. The strong woman is one who takes responsibility for her own body and who is smart enough to know how to use it. If she is good at it, it is assumed that she will have many partners. Women can and do get to this point. But this is not what they are by nature. This was not their starting point, only their settling point. Blow away the ash, and the ember yet burns for a healthy, tender, passionate, enduring, mutually satisfying relationship with just one man. (p.29)

Ensor is not lopsided in his perspectives of gender. He sees clear differences revealed in Scripture, yet affirms the Scriptural equality of both genders. They are equal, but different:

Why these differences should be so threatening is hard to grasp. The issue is not about equality—equality is a given. Nor is it about superiority and inferiority. It is about men being stronger than women and women being stronger than men in different and complementary ways. Our complementarity is rooted in nature. (p.74)

The author gives what I consider to be outstanding, direct counsel to both men and women who are anticipating marriage (as well as those already married). Every chapter addresses key ideas for waiting in purity as one prepares for marriage or how gender is fleshed out in marriage. I can only give samples for each apart from quoting the entire work.

For men, I offer a very clear sample of Ensor’s way of writing:

Unmet sexual passion is like carrots: it helps a man see better what he really wants in life. Unmet sexual passion brings into focus a vision for being a husband and potentially a father. Unmet sexual passion drives him toward removing all the obstacles, whether they are inner fears and doubts or the need to work toward preparing him to know her family, to talk about their future, and to finish up what needs to be done in order to be able to make a living. It drives us to solve problems and get ready. It matures us. (p. 121)

For women, Ensor is equally direct and helpful:

Sisters, abstaining from sexual immorality is, for you, too, a matter of submitting to God and his commands. But it is more. It is God’s “Mature Manhood Test Kit” for women. The immature, self-centered, ungodly man will test negative in a matter of weeks. The deceitful and cunning predator will test negative in a matter of days. Men willing to wait, and wanting to wait, will test positive. It is not a lack of sexual interest; it is a healthy fear of God. It is love, which at this point rightfully expresses itself as protection from sin and shame. If he weakens, help him succeed. If all else goes well in the development of the relationship, you know you are marrying a godly man, one who has self-control and a clear sense of his calling as a man. (p.118)

Though I would probably land a bit more conservatively on some issues than Ensor (women and working outside the home, for example, which he briefly addresses in Chapter 15), I think that the greatest blunder of the book is the title of the book itself. The title is vague, and gives no clear indication of the treasure that this small 160-page book contains.

Benefit is certain to any reader who is serious about God’s teaching on gender, and who is desiring a God-intended quality relationship with one person of the opposite gender throughout life. People of both genders would be greatly benefited by this book, if only they knew of its excellent life-directing content.

I would offer the following alternate titles:

  • Manhood and Womanhood: What God-Designed Gender Differences Look Like in a Romantic Relationship
  • Male and Female He Created Them: Living Out Gender Differences in Relationships as God Intended

Knowingly taking the chance of sounding “over the top,” I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If within my power, I would (after changing the title and cover art) put this book in the hands of every teenager and adult believer. Ensor’s book is that helpful and practical. I have read it several times, only to be convicted and challenged over and over. The book cannot be summarized. Each page is therapeutically piercing in a time when the very existence of gender is being questioned, ignored, or forsaken.

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